I walk out of Fisk on the first warm Monday afternoon of the spring and I’m thinking about Dante. Who was Beatrice IRL? Virgil seems like a G, too bad he’s stuck in Inferno. Why is Paradise so boring? I soon spot Grand Cousin singer/ guitarist Henry Hall ‘14, drummer Evan Low ‘14, and bassist Robby Caplan ‘14 outside and these medieval ruminations vanish. We decide we’ll just wing an interview under the sun. As soon as we settle in the perfect spot of grass below North College Henry says, “I feel like I’m at Coachella right now a little bit. Whenever I sit in grass and I’m showered in the rays of sun I feel like I’m at Coachella.” Hit the jump...now.
Grand Cousin, over the last three years, have solidified themselves as staple in the Wesleyan music scene. They have played almost every venue on campus (not yet SciLi) and have a dedicated following. Hall’s falsetto might define the band for many people, but when you really listen to their music, you hear dark and witty lyrics, catchy riffs, and infectious melodies. When you see them live, they exchange smiles, stares, and giggles with each other and the audience. You can tell in an instant how much fun they have playing together and that they have a distinct sense of humor about everything. Last spring they released Grand Cousin EP, where you can hear how just how tight these guys are. Read our interview below, no excuses.
AW: What’s the origin of Grand Cousin?
EL: Robby and I were hanging out early on because we knew each other through a mutual best friend (Dylan Keegan ’14), so we quickly realized that we were a drum and bass duo. Keegan’s roommate was Zach Carlson, star of the new DreamHost video, who was one of Henry’s closest friends from home. We played with Zach once, then Henry came, and we decided we wanted to keep playing with Henry.
HH: I think the first song we played was “I Hate People.” We dug how we were sounding then Robby said, “Hey, Henry do you want to be in a band?”
EL: We sealed it with a kiss.
AW: When I got to Wesleyan you were Grandfather, one word, then you became Grand Father, also known as “Space Father”. Now you’re named Grand Cousin. Can you talk about the evolution of your name?
HH: I thought of the name probably 12 seconds before we played the Class of 2014 Open Talent show.
RC: We were followed by jiu jitsu fighters.
HH: We finished our set then they laid out a fucking 20 foot mat for them to do flips onto, which was awesome. We didn’t have a name before we were going to go on and the guy running it asked what our name was and I said “Grandfather.” Later we realized there was already a band called Grandfather, which was a problem. We switched it to Grand Father in order to solve that problem.
EL: When that was happening I was reading a book called All You Need to Know about the Music Buisness. There’s a little section in the book about naming rights, which goes into a discussion about why you can’t name your band “Le Zeppelin” for instance. We realized putting a space in it wasn’t good enough, so then we felt like keeping it in the family and changed it to “Grand Cousin” because we’d be first on google.
HH: Which we are!
AW: So now you’ve been Grand Cousin for about a year now. You’re solidified as a band on campus and you play a lot of shows. How does the music making process work in your band? How do you write songs? How does it all come together?
HH: I write the songs: the lyrics, the melodies, and the chord progressions. I’d say what always happens is I bring in the songs and play them for Evan and Robby, on my own playing the eclectic guitar and singing. Then I will sometimes have an idea about the tone of the bass and drum parts or some specific lick that I like that I want Robby to play in certain parts, but then we end up arranging the songs together around the foundation of the song I brought in. So basically they don’t do shit. So thanks a lot. I quit by the way. [laughs]
Practice for the most part is primarily to get tighter and work on how we’re playing together. We don’t write during practice. It’s more working on band dynamics.
EL: Some songs Henry comes in with a pretty specific idea of what he wants for drums and bass. So with a song like “I Wanna Know You,” Henry comes in with a drum part he wants. A song like that will really just remain. Other times Robby and I will get together on our own and bring Henry some ideas.
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AW: What is the future vision for Grand Cousin?
HH: We want to do a statewide tour of West Virginia. We’ve been talking about that for a long, long time.
RC: We’re still trying to get the visas approved.
HH: I think our goal now is to play and rehearse as much as we can and play as well as we possibly can together.
EL: To as many people as possible.
HH: You can’t really control how popular you are or how much people like you. The only thing you really control is how well you play together so we try to control that as much as we can.
AW: You made a music video recently. How did that come together and how do you feel about it now? Also, whose idea was the milkshake?
[vimeo width="540" height="303"]https://vimeo.com/60791092[/vimeo]
EL: The milkshake was my idea. I was at bar night, getting wild and I got a call from Hall saying we’re going rogue and making a music video.
HH: Jack Coyne ‘13 called me and said we’re making a music video right now and you better be ready because we’re pulling in Sidney’s (Schleiff ‘14) car and we’re gonna go into Middletown and shoot stuff. We pretty much had no idea what that meant or what we were going to do. It just kind of ended up being what it is, what you see. We had no plan, really.
RC: Nothing about it was premeditated. In fact, we tried to film it at Price Chopper but got kicked out so we went across the street to the diner and ordered some grilled cheeses.
HH: We were spitballing and I told Jack to film me hugging the shrubbery.
EL: Pretty much the only contribution I have made so far is the recommendation of the milkshake.
RC: I decided to be me in the video. Maybe it’s counterintuitive.
AW: What differences have you noticed playing different venues around campus?
HH: We enjoy playing everywhere on campus, for sure. But I think the difference is that it’s harder to get people to go to certain shows depending on how far they are from them. It boils down to that. If Music House were next to Judd, every single show would be well attended because it’s central. But I enjoy all the vibes of every venue we’ve played. It’s always fun.
EL: We really want to play SciLi on a Tuesday evening, maybe in the 24-hour study space.
EL: Recently we’ve been more focused on levels. After shows we ask friends how it sounded and they always say Henry’s voice wasn’t loud enough. Everyone wants to hear Henry’s voice and we want everyone to hear it.
AW: Is there anything that frustrates you about the Wesleyan music scene?
HH: Too many fat people.
RC: We’re always excited to play a show but there’s always a collective anxiety we face because we’ve played so many shows and sometimes the person from Sound Coop is like, "we don’t have a mic." I don’t want to disparage Sound Coop because it’s certainly not their fault, but there’s never any guarantee that we’ll have the equipment we need or the time we need to really be prepared for shows.
That ceases to be a worry only when you’re playing at really professional levels, but certainly as a band playing on campus it’s stressful for us. Part of the concern is also that most of the venues on campus aren’t idea acoustically so we’re often concerned our music is going to come off too stridently if the levels are slightly off even.
HH: Last year we’d sneek into the WestCo Cafe to play for an hour the afternoon before a show so we’d know what it was sounding like that day.
RC: How crappy it was going to sound.
HH: Everything ends up working out in the end and as long as I get to end up in my bed watching Reno 911! at the end of the night I’m happy.
EL: We go to a lot of shows, because you know, we’re a student band and we love ot support other student bands. The shows are amazing when it sounds great, but the shows are less good when it doesn’t sound as good. Sound is important; we’re playing music.
AW: I think we’re done. We’ve established the school needs to invest more money in Sound Coop. You hear that SBC? Do you have any shout outs?
HH: Shout out to LoRise. Shout out to iced tea, not the rapper, the tea.
EL: At Red and Black.
RC: Shout out to Usdan breakfast.
HH: Not Rite Aide but the CVS far away, shout out. Shouts out to Rachel Karine in Spring Breakers.
EL: Shouts out to Aural Wes.